Ex-Kerouac flame and tireless memoirist Joyce Johnson continues her incisive dissection of late-20th-century boho Manhattan in Missing Men, a three-part chronicle that centers around the lingering influence of absent—physically and otherwise—fathers and lovers. A follow-up of sorts to Minor Characters, Johnson’s celebrated 1983 recollection of life with the King of the Beats (her archetypal AWOL lover), Missing Men describes her sequential post-Jack marriages to two struggling abstract expressionist painters. Moody, magnetic alcoholic James Johnson and distant Brit Peter Pinchbeck, we learn, are cut from the same cloth as Johnson’s maternal grandfather, a tormented immigrant poet whose suicide established a legacy of loss his female progeny seem helpless to escape. The book’s first and best segment describes one such descendant: Johnson’s mother, Rosalind, a fascinating, iron-willed mix of pathos and pluck who cajoled the young Joyce into a brief but memorable stage-acting career and started her down the path of artistic endeavor. Johnson comes across here as something of a charmingly old-fashioned New York snob whose awareness of life beyond Soho and the East Village is willfully limited, but she also establishes herself as an unusually keen observer of emotional flux.

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